Sunday 5 September 2010

Proms Saturday Matinee 5

To the Cadogan Hall on Saturday afternoon for the final Proms Saturday Matinee, given by the BBC Singers, the Arditti String Quartet and Endymion, conducted by David Hill. The concert had an old/new theme, in may ways similar to the Chapelle du Roi's concert at St. Johns Smith Square in December. BBC Singers and Endymion started with Judith Weir's All the Ends of the Earth, a wonderful piece which Weir bases on Perotin's Viderunt Omnes. Tenors and basses sing bits of Perotin, supported by harp and percussion, whilst sopranos and altos sing Weir's new composed music. I have heard the work before, when Hill and the BBC Singers did it at St. Giles Cripplegate and was pleased to renew acquaintance, though felt it a shame that we could not have heard the Perotin as well!

This was followed by the premiere of Thea Musgrave's Ithaca, a setting of an English translation of Cavafy's poem. Here the old/new reference was to the classical past and Musgrave created a wonderfully dramatic and quite dense piece, for unaccompanied chorus. One that I would want to hear again soon.

Bayan Northcott's Hymn to Cybele dated from the 1980's but was receiving its first performance at the Proms. Set for chorus, soloists, double bass and percussion, the text was based on Catullus and referred to a rather grisly episode where a young man, Attis, is drawn to the cult of Cybele and under the goddess's influence emasculates himself. Northcott's music rather reflected this, being quite dense and difficult.

Density continued to increase, with Brian Ferneyhough's Dum transisset I-IV for string quartet, played with devastating aplomb and accuracy by the Arditti String Quartet.

We then had John Taverner's Dum transisset sabbatum followed by Jonathan Holloway's setting of the same text. Both were written for a traditional cathedral choir, Holloway's piece for St. Paul's Cathedral Choir. In fact, the Holloway sounded quite challenging given its origins. I didn't quite feel that the BBC Singers had the purity of tone necessary to bring the music off, the sopranos and altos were certainly some way from boys and male altos.

This vocal difference was still noticeable in the Benedictus from Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas. The passage In Nomine Domini from this gave rise to numerous English imitations and Gabriel Jackson's In Nomine Domini emulated this. It was commissioned to conclude this concert, so that Jackson (who is the new Associate composer of the BBC Singers), was obliged to use the full forces of the concert, BBC Singers, Arditti String Quartet, Harp and percussion. Jackson set a poem by John Bradburne and interpolated In Nomine movements for the string quartet. The result was created with Jackson's usual facility and there were some luminous moments, but it had a rather contrived feel.

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